Are you disillusioned or disenchanted?

One of the most helpful works of a general nature on the subject of transitions is the work of David Bridges — not a bad name for someone writing about transition. In it Bridges argues that those who navigate transition take one of two approaches to the challenges that they face. Some are disillusioned, others are disenchanted.

Bridges is not a theologian and he does not take a theological approach to his subject, he argues that in the transitions in life we experience we confront the difference between our expectations and the nature of reality. To one degree or another, he argues, we are all “enchanted.” That is, we have magical or unrealistic notions of what our jobs and relationships — or the future in genral — can hold for us.

The disillusioned, he notes, are people who never realistically examine this difference to determine the extent to which this enchantment has shaped their expectations. So, when they confront the difference, they are “disillusioned” by it; and immediately begin looking for a new experience that will match their expectations. These, are the people who, Bridges argues, go through multiple relationships and jobs, looking for the optimal experience and, never quite have it. Others are always to blame, they are forever the victims.

By contrast, he notes, those who are mature go through a process of “disenchantment.” The disenchanted experience the same dissonance that the disillusioned experience, but before initiating change, they also confront the degree to which their expectations are shaped by magical and unrealistic assumptions. Having taken that difference into account, the disenchanted then weigh the wisdom of making further changes. As a result, they are able to make realistic changes, hold themselves and others accountable, and avoid the perils of a life dominated by unrealistic desires and the inevitable disappointment that shadows it.

One could argue, I think, that a moment’s reflection would reveal that Bridges’ analysis, as psychologically astute as it is, might benefit further still from theological reflection. What is at stake here, I believe, is not just our ability to confront the distortions in our perceptions and expectations — or the ability to recognize the way in which our life experiences can plunge us into transitions that are calculated to mask the greater inward, psychological transition needed. What is at stake is, at a fundamental level, is our ability to confront the deeper transition that is repentance.

Spiritually, the disillusioned are not simply dogged by the dissonance between their expectations and their experiences — they are dogged by the spiritual presumption that their views are the measure of the way in which the world around them should perform and they pridefully resist the need to examine that — idolatrous — presumption.

This is not to suggest that the spiritually mature preacher blithely accepts the status quo as somehow ordained and appropriate. To do that is to lapse back into a baptized fatalism and to cut the engine of spiritual and moral critique. But it is to suggest that until we take ourselves out of the equation in ways that are presumptuous, we privilege our own views with a preeminence that only God’s perspective rightly deserves.

2 Responses to “Are you disillusioned or disenchanted?”

  1. Larry says:

    “Baptized fatalism.” What a splendid turn of phrase, especially in this little essay that I read as an exhortation to holy hope. Good words here.

  2. John says:

    “But it is to suggest that until we take ourselves out of the equation in ways that are presumptuous, we privilege our own views with a preeminence that only God’s perspective rightly deserves.”

    Wow! What an opaque sentence. What’s it supposed to be saying?….

Leave a Reply